Ministry’s comments on the attack on well-known journalist and writer seem to question who was really responsible.
After an attack on writer and journalist Ante Tomić, the Culture Ministry responded with a quite unusual and disgraceful statement in which it seemed to give legitimacy to the attackers, report telegram.hr and Jutarnji List on April 3, 2016.
The Ministry sent this official statement: “The Ministry of Culture condemns physical violence and attacks on all citizens. At the same time, this case reminds us about the importance of responsibility for words spoken and/or written in public.”
In its extremely cynical statement, the Ministry did not mention any specific incident, but basically said that it condemned attacks on all citizens. After that, the Ministry literally warned Ante Tomić that he should be careful about what he says and writes, which is probably supposed to mean that it was Tomić’s fault that he was physically attacked.
Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović evidently believes that there are limits to freedom of expression. In most European countries, this limit is set at spreading hatred and promotion of violence against individuals and specific and unprotected group of citizens. Everything else, even if you do not agree with it, must be protected: not just empty platitudes and favourable praise, but also criticism and insults.
With this announcement on the redefinition of freedom of speech, Croatia has placed itself in a group of European countries that think in the same way, countries like Serbia, Hungary and Poland, and in line with global tendencies like Putinism and Trumpism.
In other words, citizens themselves should be careful about what they say in public, and if they are not careful, bad things can happen. With this unprecedented statement, the Culture Ministry has given the legitimacy to the attackers of Ante Tomić, but also to all future attackers on writers, journalists, filmmakers, poets or painters who dare to question, criticize or provoke the society and government. Of course, if writers do not question, if journalists do not investigate, and if artists do not provoke, then they probably will have nothing else to do than to boast, boost, promote and spread propaganda. This would presumably annul their “responsibility for words spoken and/or written in public” and the state would presumably stand behind them.
Nikola Petković, president of the Croatian Association of Writers, gave his comment: “We all know very well the beliefs and attitudes of Minister Hasanbegović, which he discarded to further his career. We all know very well the positions of Ante Tomić, who did not change them regardless of the consequences. I agree that each of us is responsible for every spoken or written word. For his each spoken and written word Ante Tomić was beaten, while Zlatko Hasanbegović received the post of a minister.”
Andrea Zlatar-Violić, former Culture Minister: “The Ministry of Culture says that you should be careful about what you do, say or write, because it could hit you in the head, as literally happened to Ante Tomić. The Croatian Journalists Society reacted by rightly saying that the attack on Tomić was a consequence of growing hate speech which institutions are not reacting to.”
Nadežda Čačinović, president of the Croatian PEN Centre: “It is kind of them to say that it is not nice that people are being beaten on the streets, but then they add that they are themselves to blame. There is something unintentionally farcical in putting such a clear distance between them and people they do not agree with.”
Slavko Goldstein, a historian and publicist: “The statement of the Ministry is ambiguous while it should be clear in defending the popular Croatian writer against street violence. We already have an inflation of verbal threats against the freedom of speech, but is it possible that we are now going to see physical attacks as well?